Residents of a South Surrey assisted living facility that helps men recover from addiction have found a greater sense of purpose by feeding more than just their souls.
About two years ago, Launching Pad Addiction Rehabilitation Society (984 160 St.) partnered with FoodMesh, an organization that connects charitable organizations with grocery stores as a way to reduce food waste. Instead of throwing away thousands of pounds of food every year, grocery stores use FoodMesh to donate the goods to a charitable organization.
Launching Pad executive director Tony Back said they got involved in the program as a way to cut food costs for residents. It was also a way to teach the men about nutrition, food budgets, cooking and best before dates.
However, within the first month of collecting food from grocery stores, Launching Pad ended up with more than they could use. Save-on-Foods and IGA grocery stores are the primary donors of the food, along with Safeway in Ocean Park.
Launching Pad offered food to past clients, who had successfully transitioned out of the house, as a way to help them make ends meet while trying to rebuild their life. As the Launching Pad’s refrigeration units filled faster and faster, word got out and the program expanded. Now, they feed about 750 people every week.
New Canadians, group homes, the elderly and anyone who self-identifies as having a need are recipients of the program. As an example, Back said, a few men who transitioned out of the home about a year ago moved into an apartment building in the South Surrey and White Rock area. Shortly after, a need was identified and now 26 families in that building receive food from the program to help them make ends meet.
The program is operated by 20 residents of the house. Seven days a week they pick up, sort, store and distribute food. A tour of the facility Thursday, revealed that every other room appeared to hold multiple deep freezers and refrigeration units. Most of the freezers were full.
Back said grocery stores often remove meat from the shelves once it’s within a couple days of its best before date. Once Launching Pad receives the meat, they immediately pop it into the freezer and hold it until it can be distributed.
Thursday, 263 kilograms food was received and sorted by the residents, “and this is our slowest pickup day.” Items included several boxes of fresh produce, soups, pizzas, deli items, dairy and more.
While most of the food is still perfectly edible, some items are too far gone. As a way to further reduce waste, farmers come by the Launching Pad every day to pick up the leftovers to feed to their livestock.
While the community is the main beneficiary of the project, Back said it’s his clients that become empowered by the process.
“We’re hoping that by the time that they’re ready to leave here, that helping the community, helping others, and just overall thoughtfulness is a new way of their life,” Back said.
Noting that most food comes with ‘best before’ dates rather than ‘expiry’ dates, Back said it’s been eye-opening to see how much food that’s about to be thrown out is still good to eat.
“Just because something maybe has a little blemish on it, or it’s right next to, or a day after, the best before date, it’s still edible. It’s still good,” Back said.
Within the last year, Launching Pad has recovered more than 158,000 kilograms (350,000 pounds) of food that was ready to be thrown out. Less than one per cent of that ends up in a landfill.
The effort also provides an opportunity to teach clients about meal preparation, Back added.
“How to make a menu around the food that we get, a nutritious menu. That bleeds into guys that come in here and couldn’t boil pots of water, (they) leave here and they’re cooking meals for 30 guys.”